Correction 2/22/23, 2:46 pm:
In this post as originally published, I erroneously wrote that James Molenaar admitted in a 2021 deposition that he had a sexual relationship with Meredith Carr. In fact, while acknowledging a friendly and collegial relationship, he was not asked about a sexual relationship and denied having a romantic one. He was asked about a sexual relationship in the 2022 deposition. The sections in the post about both depositions have been revised accordingly. I apologize for the error.
As you read in my previous posts, “Collier School Board Attorney Search — Part 1 and Part 2,” the Collier County School Board on Jan. 23, by a vote of 3-2, chose James Molenaar to be its school board attorney. He was selected despite concerns about the job description, the length of time the position was posted, and perceptions of unethical behavior. The next steps were to be background and reference checks.
In this post, I will update you on what happened between Jan. 23 and today.
On Feb. 6, at the beginning of a special school board meeting called to discuss the superintendent search, district general counsel Jonathan Fishbane announced that “On Thursday afternoon [i.e., on Feb. 2], Mr. Molenaar removed his application from consideration as the board’s attorney.”
Board Chair Kelly Lichter said she would work with Assistant Superintendent Valerie Wenrich on reposting the position.
According to records obtained by the Naples Daily News, Molenaar withdrew his application in a Feb. 2 email to Andrew Brown, senior director of human resources. (Naples Daily News, 2/15/23)
Or Did He?
But in a Feb. 10 email to an unknown group of recipients (copy here), Molenaar wrote that on Feb. 4, “…the Human Resources Director unilaterally, without the request Board approval rescinded the Board’s offer of employment without affording me Due Process.” (sic)
“I submit the Assistant Superintendent of HR abused her authority and discretion,” he wrote. She “wrongfully relied on the outcry made from a few vocal minority who do not support the agenda of the new majority school board members and our governor,” he charged.
He then urged recipients of the email to write or call the school board members and school board attorney “with your thoughts” before the next school board meeting on Monday, Feb. 13, and that you “carbon copy me.”
”Come Up with Some Explanation”
On Feb. 13, Molenaar addressed the school board during the “general public comments” portion of its regular monthly meeting.
He said he was waiting for district staff to “process the paperwork” so he could begin work as “the attorney that you asked for, the attorney that you voted on, the attorney that you approved, or come up with some explanation.”
As in his email, he implicitly denied that he withdrew from consideration for the job.
At the end of his remarks, he paused expectantly. Hearing no response from the dais, and when the next public speaker was called, he walked away from the podium.
Results of Public Records Request
On Feb. 10, I received the following documents from the school district in response to my public records request of Jan. 26. As with my prior public records request (see my Jan. 21 post, Who Should Be CCPS’s New School Board Attorney?), I was surprised by what I received.
- HR Response Sheets
- Deposition of James Molenaar given on Jun. 11, 2021, in State of Florida vs. Meredith Carr
- Deposition of James Molenaar given on May 3, 2022, in Pasek and Carr vs. Kinzel
The HR Response Sheets document contains references received from two of Molenaar’s prior employers: the county attorney of Monroe County, FL, who supervised Molenaar from Aug. 2021 to Nov. 2022, and Clerk of Courts Crystal Kinzel, who worked with Molenaar between Apr. 2014 and May 2020.
The Monroe County attorney provided a positive reference and said he would hire him again.
Kinzel said she would not hire him again. She fired him in May 2020, and in response to the request for a reference, cited disciplinary issues she had with him while under her supervision. In response to the question, “Do you know of anything in the applicant’s background that may place children or adults at risk?” she said, “I recommend you do a very thorough background check.”
The 2021 Deposition
Molenaar was deposed in State of Florida vs. Meredith Carr because he had been a witness to events leading up to Carr’s arrest for drunk driving (DUI). The two were, at the time, co-workers at the Clerk of Court’s office.
In the deposition, Molenaar was asked if he had ever been in a relationship with Carr. “No, we’re friends,” he said. “We have a very friendly relationship. We have a very collegial relationship.”
He was then asked if he had ever been in a romantic relationship with Carr. “No,” he replied, and then volunteered, “I’m married. I have children.” (See deposition pages 14-15)
The 2022 Deposition
In Pasek and Carr vs. Kinzel, two former employees sued the Clerk’s office for wrongful termination. Molenaar had previously been a plaintiff in the case but had subsequently withdrawn.
In this deposition, Molenaar was reminded that “you’re under oath, and if you do not give truthful information, you may have committed perjury.” (deposition page 17)
Then, when asked if he ever had a romantic relationship with Carr, he asked, “Can you define the word ‘romantic,’ please?” (deposition page 18)
He insisted that he never had a romantic relationship with Carr, but when specifically asked if he had had a sexual relationship with her, he said yes (deposition pages 20++), and stated that it lasted about four years (deposition page 33).
He repeatedly denied that it had been his intent to be deceptive under oath in his previous deposition. (See deposition pages 17 – 28)
Later in the deposition, he said he had also been involved in a sexual relationship with another individual that he had supervised when he was manager of internal audit in the Clerk’s office. (See deposition pages 45++)
Vote on Revised Job Description Deferred
Molenaar aside, at the beginning of the Feb. 13 meeting, board member Erick Carter asked to move approval of a revised school board attorney job description from the consent agenda to “unfinished business” so it could be discussed before any vote.
Carter expressed concern about the many overlapping responsibilities between the current general counsel’s role and the new board attorney role, as drafted.
Lichter agreed that the document “still needs work,” and on a vote of 4-1, the item was deferred to the next board meeting.
Tim Moshier cast the sole vote in opposition.
At this point, quite a bit about the school board attorney search and Molenaar’s status as an applicant is unclear. Specifically:
- It is unclear whether the position was reposted (as was said at the Feb. 6 meeting after Molenaar’s withdrawal was announced) or if it is on hold pending approval of a revised job description.
- It is unclear why Molenaar asked the district to “process the paperwork” so he could begin work when, according to district general counsel Fishbane, he had withdrawn from consideration.
- It is unclear what Molenaar meant by “or come up with some explanation.”
- If Molenaar is still interested in the position, it is unknown whether the three board members who voted for him on Jan. 23 continue to support him, in view of what was learned in the District’s background and reference checks.
- Finally, it is unclear why Moshier voted against deferring the vote on the job description to another meeting.
The school board attorney search is to be taken up again at the board’s Mar. 7 meeting. (WGCU Public Media)